Hundreds of metro Detroit nurses are sick and lack adequate protections amid coronavirus outbreak

Apr 7, 2020 at 12:11 pm
click to enlarge A sign of support for health care workers on the vacant Goeschel building on Gratiot in Detroit. - Steve Neavling
Steve Neavling
A sign of support for health care workers on the vacant Goeschel building on Gratiot in Detroit.

As coronavirus patients flood hospitals in metro Detroit, hundreds of health care workers are getting infected, leading to critical staffing shortages.

At Sinai-Grace Hospital, nurses said they were told to leave Sunday night after they staged a protest for what they described as dangerously low staffing levels.

“We had six nurses, and they told us to leave because we just wanted a safe staffing ratio. We just needed extra help,” nurse Sal Hadwan said on a Facebook live video. “We cannot safely take care of your loves ones with six or seven nurses. It’s unacceptable.”

At Henry Ford Health System, more than 730 employees at the hospital system have tested positive for the coronavirus. The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients rose from 86 on March 23 to 718 on Monday.

At Beaumont Health System, about 1,600 workers, including 500 nurses, “have symptoms consistent with COVID-19” and are not working, spokesman Mark Geary told Bridge Magazine on Monday. About 200 COVID-19 patients have died at Beaumont hospitals, compared to four on March 24, according to records obtained by Metro Times.

Since the outbreak began last month, more than 3,600 residents have been hospitalized with COVID-19, and 1,383 of them are on ventilators. Nearly 90% of the hospitalizations are in southeast Michigan, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical officer, said Monday.

“Our hospitals continue to be overwhelmed, particularly in southeast Michigan,” Khaldun said.

The state’s coronavirus death toll now stands at 727, the third highest in the nation, behind New York and New Jersey.

Hospitals also are running out of ventilators, intensive-care beds, and personal protective gear like masks, gloves, and gowns. Many health care workers say they're forced to work without the proper gear, making them and their families vulnerable.

On Monday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Beaumont and Henry Ford’s hospitals “are within days” of running out of N95 masks, face shields, and surgical gowns.

“We are working incredibly hard to make sure hospitals get the support they need — equipment, ventilators, masks, gowns, and medications,” Khaldun said.

To free up space, federal officials are converting the TCF Center in downtown Detroit into a 1,000-bed hospital and is expected to begin treating coronavirus patients later this week. The Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi has also been selected to serve as a field hospital for as many as 1,000 coronavirus patients.

But state officials are worried about finding enough trained medical progressional to staff the field hospitals.

On March 31, Whitmer called on out-of-state doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, and other health professionals to come to Michigan and help.

Volunteers are making masks and donating other supplies.

Dr. Matthew D. Sims, director of infectious diseases research at Beaumont Health System, said the outpouring of support for health care workers is "impressive and humbling."

“It’s amazing the amount of people coming together to fix this problem,” Sims tells Metro Times. “There are a lot of really good people trying to do the right thing.”

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